House will vote on 20-week abortion ban on same day as March for Life.
WASHINGTON – For years, pro-life leaders have wanted their supporters to walk in the annual March for Life and lobby their members of Congress to vote for anti-abortion legislation on the same day. The dream may turn into reality next Thursday, and movement leaders say the coordination between them and congressional Republican leaders marks an improvement in their at-times uneasy relations.
In the House of Representatives, leaders have scheduled a vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on January 22. That is the same day that hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists are expected to descend on the National Mall.
In the Senate, pro-life leaders say, GOP leaders are bound to vote on the legislation in the new 114th Congress. “It’s the position of the leadership in the Senate,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said at a press conference Thursday, referring to the bill that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) sponsors.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, expressed more caution. “While it’s certainly an important bill for our conference, we don’t yet have a schedule for votes beyond the Keystone bill,” Stewart wrote in an email.
With both chambers in session next week and the House’s scheduled vote, pro-life leaders believe they have a new-found opportunity to apply extra pressure to wavering or undecided lawmakers about the legislation. On January 21, the day before the march, March for Life will host a conference at a hotel downtown to help turn marchers into grass-roots Capitol Hill lobbyists. The event will include two morning sessions called “Capitol Hill 101,” which teach marchers to “meet with their Members of Congress during their March for Life trip to advocate for the sanctity of life.”
The March for Life this year marks the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Courts’ twin 1973 rulings in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, which struck down all state bans on the procedure. Estimates about the number of abortions performed annually in the United States vary, but most say 1 million to 1.2 million.
NARAL-Pro-Choice America, a prominent abortion-rights organization, did not return a phone call for comment.
Some abortion supporters have taken steps to counter-act the march, though. Down the hall from the Susan B. Anthony List’s press conference at the National Press Club Thursday morning was the “National Black Women’s Reproductive Agenda,” a policy conference that five pro-choice organizations sponsored.
A pro-life movement leader, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter freely, said the Senate leadership’s support is long overdue. The leader noted that congressional Republican leaders have not scheduled a vote on a major pro-life stand-alone bill since the Stupak-Pitts amendment in 2010 and the partial-birth abortion ban in the late 1990s and early 2000’s. “Henry Hyde had to pull teeth to get the bill passed,” the leader said, referring to the late congressman from Illinois who sponsored the partial-birth bill.
A long-time spokesman for Hyde disagreed. “Chairman Hyde was always looking for ways to protect the defenseless unborn in ways that were achievable and practical. Does that mean that some translated this into a lack of enthusiasm? I don’t think they should,” Sam Stratman, who served as Hyde’s spokesman from 1987 to 2007, said in a telephone interview.
Stratman said the courts rather than the legislature have blocked pro-life legislation. Some pro-choice officials said the real intent of the 20-week abortion ban bill is to let the courts take up the bill as a test case to overthrow Roe. Dannenfelser struck a note of caution about the notion Thursday, saying that the Supreme Court might allow states to restrict abortion further as it did in its 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. “There’s been an erosion in Roe’s statutes, up to the end of life (abortion is permitted. We’ll see how the courts respond.”
Mark Stricherz covers Washington for Aleteia. He is author of Why the Democrats are Blue.